Here’s a road sign in my town.

What does it mean?
What does it mean?

The first time I drove by this sign, I was flummoxed. I knew that it had to do with yielding and pedestrians, but for some reason I just couldn’t take it all in at one time and get the complete message. The “HERE”, the arrow, and “TO” made me think: “Here to…where?”

I felt embarrassed that I was confused by a public road sign. Then I remembered something I had read in a splendid book recently: If you see an object for the public’s use, but don’t understand how to use it, it’s not your fault. It is the product designer’s (in this case, the sign designer’s) fault.

The Design of Everyday Things explores the dos and don’ts of good design, and describes principles that enhance and detract from object usability. It’s fascinating to me.

I’m not a professional designer, but I believe that there are specific flaws in this particular road sign:

  • Mixture of multiple words and multiple symbols
  • Indistinct relationships between components
  • Indistinct sequence
  • Redundant words/symbols

I think it would have been clearer — better — without the HERE and without the arrow. HERE? Really? Where else would you obey a road sign?

Wouldn’t this be better?


So simple, so strong.

OK. Glad I got that off my chest. I’ve seen this confusing Yield sign in other towns now, and it makes me wonder if other folks in other locales have also been confused, at least at their first viewing.

The moral of the story: The next time you are entering a building and push the door when you are supposed to pull it…it’s not your fault. Or when you are trying to get coffee out of a coffee machine and you push wrong buttons…it’s not your fault. Or you find yourself staring at a microwave, not knowing how to make it start…it’s not your fault…etc. etc. etc.

Any designers want to chime in on this?

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Almost everyone cheers for their home team. But who cheers for unknown strangers on an unknown team?

I was at a high school track meet in the Colorado Springs area. Towards the end of the day, in the 3200m (2 mile) race, all the runners had crossed the finish line except one. There were hundreds of spectators in the stands…and one boy on the track.

He was coming into the stretch a good minute or more behind the next-to-last finisher.

This runner was out of gas, in pain, but he had his game face on and was finishing with the best kick he could muster. He was finishing purely for pride.

As he passed our section of the bleachers, one of our track moms stood up. She started yelling, “Run! Run! Come on, boy in blue!” She started clapping. We all clapped and cheered for the boy in the blue jersey. We didn’t know him, didn’t know his school. But someone saw his courage and perseverance and cheered him on. And then so did a lot of the rest of us.

It’s a good thing to cheer for the home team. It’s also good to cheer for brave strangers.

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Have you ever been anxious and then did something stupid that fed your anxieties even more? Have you ever done EXACTLY the wrong thing? Boy, I did.

When my family went camping in Yellowstone National Park, we were anxious about bears. Grizzlies had harmed other campers that summer, and we did not want to experience bears that way.

Almost all of the other campers in the Park were in hard-sided RVs. And there we were with our tent. Hmm.

So I gave strict instructions to my family about how we should handle food in our campsite: No food in the tent, no food left outside, no food smells on us or our stuff: we’d live by the book in bear country.

They got it. We were oh-so-careful during supper.

Then, while cleaning up afterwards, I tripped and — wait for it — sloshed a whole mess of chicken soup on the ground right next to our tent. OohhhNooo! I had soaked the ground with chicken broth, inches from where we’d be sleeping. “Dad, the bears!!!” I was so annoyed at myself, and my children were so terrified.


Bear Spray, QuickBooks, and Your Computer
Wifi in the Wilderness
Car Camping in Colorado: Things That Should and Should Not Be

We decided after supper to walk around the campground a bit, so we headed up the road. Every campsite had a trailer, truck, lawn chairs, folks enjoying the nice evening. After going just a little ways up our road, I started to smell something….chicken…fried chicken. Fried chicken?!?

A guy had a propane deep fryer out by his RV and he was cooking up a big batch of chicken. Everybody within 100 yards of his campsite, and every bear within probably three miles, was smelling that chicken. It was a strong smell, a very good smell.

Whew! We were saved! There wouldn’t be any bears interested in my chicken soup that night!

Sure enough, in the wee hours that night, I heard a car alarm go off, and keep going off, for a long time. Did the fried chicken guy hit the panic button on his key fob when a bear showed up? Did a bear try to break into his truck? Or had some other random camper gotten up for something and accidentally tripped his alarm?

Personally, I think a bear was making a late night chicken run.

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About one century ago, Sir Ernest Shackleton explored the antarctic continent. Clothed in reindeer fur, wearing boots insulated with grass, and with the help of sled dogs and Mongolian ponies, he and his team were the first to reach the magnetic south pole. They were the first to climb Mount Erebus (Antartica’s highest peak). And although he fell short of being the first to reach the South Pole, he voyaged further south than anyone before him had gone.

He then wrote about his adventures. It is compelling reading.

“Degrees of frost” is a phrase he used to describe temperature in Antarctica. It is a poetic way of saying “below freezing” degrees (in Fahrenheit scale, of course. Shackleton was an Englishman).

I took a walk with my daughter earlier this month when it was -22F (-30C). That’s 54 degrees of frost, according to Shackleton. Here’s what that looked like.

54 degrees of frost
54 degrees of frost in central Colorado

54 degrees of frost is as far below freezing as 86 degrees Fahrenheit is above freezing.

That was the coldest temperature we had ever experienced. But those temperatures (and worse) were commonplace for Shackleton and his team in the days of their explorations. You’ve got to admire the tenacity and hard purposefulness of those frosty men.

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optical illusion - girl or old woman
Girl or old woman? It's all in your perception (Punch magazine, 1915)
The other night I waited in the car while my wife was in the grocery store. I saw a guy sitting at an outdoor table — picnic table, really — at the edge of the parking lot. That’s the table where the store employees take their smoke break.

The guy’s head was down and his arms rested on the table top. Scrunched over. He didn’t move. There was a plastic bag on the picnic table in front of him. His long hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and he wore brown coveralls. I noticed that he twitched occasionally; he was otherwise perfectly still. Passed out?

I watched him for a couple minutes, wondering if I should go check on him or something. From fifty yards away, under the parking lot lights, he looked semi-conscious to me…maybe having a medical emergency? Should I go check it out?

About the time I had decided to do SOMETHING, he straightened up, and I realized he had been writing. The scrunched posture and the twitches were just the natural body language of handwriting.

He stood up, picked up his parcel, and started walking rapidly and purposefully across the parking lot. He was holding a wrapped bouquet of flowers and an envelope.

Voila! All became clear.

He strode to the highway, turned left, and walked out of sight.

What I had perceived as a bad thing was in reality a very good thing. A card and flowers…awesome.

Just another example of how difficult it is to really perceive someone else. As it says, it’s not a bad idea to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (or upset, or judgmental).

‘Cause it’s easy to get it wrong.

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When my daughter lived in Taiwan, I learned a little about the Chinese Zodiac. Basically, depending on your birth year, you are associated with a certain animal — and its traits — within the ancient Chinese tradition. While my daughter, a “rabbit” by birth, lived in Taiwan, it was the “Year of the Rabbit” — an “auspicious time” for all rabbits like her. But then Chinese New Year came along and the Year of the Rabbit gave way to the Year of the Dragon.

How about moose? There are no moose in China. There ARE moose in Colorado. I just had never seen any. Until last week, that is.

I took the family over Cottonwood Pass last week to have a picnic supper over at Taylor Reservoir. About 3/4ths of the way down the Gunnison county side, there was a moose browsing in the grass amongst the lodgepole pines. “Look, a moose!” We all stopped and gawked like tourists. Awesome! After living 18 years in Colorado, the moose drought was broken.

And when it rains, it pours, they say.

On Saturday, we were driving I-70 and coming up to the first exit for Frisco. I became aware of what I thought at first was a skinny horse, bay colored, dancing around in the middle of the freeway ahead of me. No, it’s a moose! Yikes! The poor critter wanted to cross the highway, but there was obviously too much traffic, so he was doing a little tap dance in the eastbound lanes. Fortunately, he came to his senses and bolted back off the road before I had to slam on the brakes.

Wow, two moose in one week!

Later that same Saturday, our business done on the Front Range, we were returning home via US 285. Just on the outskirts of Grant, lurking in an aspen grove, was (I’m not lying!) a moose. Again, for the first half-second, I thought I was seeing a bay horse. Nope. Moose.

A three-moose week — the “Week of the Moose”. An auspicious time? I’ll take it.

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I grew up in Texas, where spring was spring — classic spring: redbud trees and azaleas blooming, daffodils coming up in neighborhood flower beds, patches of bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes along the roadsides.

Here’s my springtime experience here in the mountains of central Colorado.

spring ice fishing
No daffodils here!

Ha! Yep, I was ice fishing earlier in March and the ice was almost two feet thick at Antero Reservoir.

It just takes spring a long time to trudge up to elevation. It’s a game of king-of-the-hill, and winter is not easily pushed off the mountain. The re-greening of the earth comes to us in mid-May and even more so in June. Spring is not too green here.

There are signs of spring, though: the arrival of migrating mountain bluebirds this week.

Come to think of it, most of our signs of spring are in the animal kingdom. In the last week, I’ve seen the reappearance of robins, mourning doves, Clark’s nutcrackers, chipmunks, and golden mantle squirrels.

Previous springs inform me that the next sign of spring here will probably be the re-emergence of the prairie dogs from their winter stupor. One of these mornings soon, they will be standing up straight and watchful by the side of the road, enjoying the morning sun as I drive my kid to school. Prairie dogs are pretty smart about cars, and seem instinctively trained to “stop, look, and listen” before crossing the road — few are hit relative to their numbers and inclination to colonize next to roads. I hope this year’s batch is as savvy.

The most exciting event of spring, to me, has to do with another seasonal change in the animal kingdom: bugs maturing in the Arkansas River. Yes, the mayflies and caddis flies — little insects that hatch and develop underwater — will come to maturity over the next couple of months. They will experience insect metamorphosis, just like caterpillars turning into butterflies. These critters will turn into adult mayflies and caddis flies.

Why would anyone care about that? Because the trout in the river care about that. When river conditions are just so, the bugs will swim up to the surface of the river, sprout their wings, dry off a bit, and fly away. The trout are on to them. They will eat a bunch of them, in effect breaking their winter semi-fast and nutritionally preparing them for the rigors of living the river trout lifestyle the rest of the year.

And I’ll be out there with them, wading in the river, waving a flyrod with my best imitations of mayflies and caddis flies attached to long slender leaders. Can’t wait.

Until then, if I can’t enjoy springtime bluebonnets, at least I can enjoy the springtime bluebirds.

p.s. There will be a “sign of spring” within the QuickBooks world in May: the discontinuance of support for QuickBooks 2009. But for now, let’s think about bluebonnets and bluebirds, shall we?

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What’s this? A humble old aluminum percolator coffee pot. Nothing special.

Oh, but it is.

You see, Bob Martin used this percolator when he went camping, in preparation for his mountaineering expeditions. When he passed away in 2008, he had climbed every mountain in Colorado that stands over 11,000 feet. That’s over 2,000 mountains. Add 2,000+ peaks in Arizona. Over 5,000 peaks worldwide. Wow. I remember reading an article about him in the Denver Post a few years ago, that he had climbed more Colorado mountains than anybody, save one other mountaineer.

Bob Martin used to be my neighbor, and I have his old coffee pot. I bought it at a garage sale at his house. I think I paid 25 cents for it.

When my family and I go camping in the mountains, or I go backpacking with my fishing buddy up to high alpine lakes, I take the old percolator with me. I like to think that it gives me a little of Martin’s old mountain mojo, but in reality it just makes a good pot of coarse-ground morning coffee under the firs and pines.

I guess I’m sentimental, but I think about the hundreds of pots of coffee Bob made in preparation for climbing another mountain. Made in the old percolator. In my mind’s eye I see him pouring a cup, and then studying a topo map spread over his camp table, planning his climbing route for the day.

I actually did go climbing with him once, at his invitation — a neighborly gesture. We climbed an unnamed 11’er in Pitkin county. But that’s another story.

“If these walls could talk”…sure. What about a coffee pot? I wish it could tell me a few stories about adventures above treeline in the mountain West.

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